It has been estimated that the United States will be investing approximately 1,152.15 billion dollars in education in the year 2016 . This is approximately 200% more than was spent fifteen years prior in 2001. Certainly inflation plays a role in this increase, but the argument for an increased investment in education is easy to make: an educated population will benefit humanity more so than an uneducated population. This is great, but what does it really mean to be educated?
Are you educated if you can memorize a few statistics right before a major exam? As most would say, probably not. Are you educated if you can repeatedly perform a specific task without flaw, but have no other merits? Some would say yes, and many would say no.
The specialization of labor can be the most efficient form of an economy when opportunity costs are minimized. Bankers don’t know how to butch, and butchers don’t know how to bank. People know how to do one thing, and they do it well. We purchase goods or services when it would take too long or cost too much to learn how to provide the same result for ourselves. We outsource.
Has this caused us to be too single-minded? Americans are known as consumers of convenience, but are we smarter because of it? As a service-oriented economy it would be very possible for an “educated” American to thrive while being knowledgeable in just one enterprise. This is encouraged in many ways through capitalism and the financial pressures of specialization. But what is it doing to the human psyche?
True education comes from experiential learning with the ability to apply what has been learned and translate that knowledge to multiple facets of life. The development of a person’s character comes from diverse challenges and their willingness to open their mind to new ideas. With this comes an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a heightened sense of self-awareness.
This brings up the argument of the amount of educational investment in character development versus trade specialization. Are they mutually exclusive? Probably not. There is nothing stopping a banker from being the most knowledgeable in her field while upholding a great deal of integrity. What does it cost to teach both?
A student can pay a certain amount of money to enroll in an institution of higher education and gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful. Ethics and integrity are built into the curriculum of many subjects, but is it enough? What can a person do to hone their ethical code? There is a cost of a college degree, but what is the cost of character development? Can you put a monetary value on it? Where do you look for such a service? How do you know when you’ve reached an adequate level of ethical standards?
Most people will emulate the values exhibited by their role models. As one is nurtured through their upbringing to exhibit a certain set of values, whether staunch or weak, there exists the constant opportunity to assess their own character along with the continuous change in the environment that surrounds them. It should be the goal of educational systems worldwide to provide these opportunities of character development. The world needs bankers and butchers who are good at what they do, but how can we foster an educational environment that shapes the ethical code of the future leaders of our world?